Hello from Ochanomizu University in Tokyo!
I arrived in Tokyo on 7 October for a month-long research stay at Ochanomizu University as part of an INTPART collaboration between the two Gender Studies research centers. My research focuses on trans issues in Japan, and I hope to write an article or book chapter comparing trans rights in Norway, the subject of my doctoral research, with those in Japan. The comparative dimension of my project is in collaboration with Professor Kei Ishimaru of the Psychology Department here at Ocha, whose research has a special focus on trans issues.
Tokyo is a really wonderful city. Clean, organized and endlessly interesting with the uncountable vending machines, random interspersing of European-style architecture and business, and hustle-and-bustle of people. The city is huge, but easy to navigate with the metro and train system. Thankfully there are English signs (as well as signs in ‘romaji’, or Latin, script), which makes it far more possible. I haven’t dared tried the buses, as they do not always have romaji script and who knows where I will end up!
Trans rights in Japan: cultural memory and gender diversity
Trans rights in Japan are unfortunately very limited, as one must be sterilized in order to change legal gender. In Norway, this stopped being a requirement in 2016; Japan, on the other hand, chose earlier this year to uphold the constitutionality of its 2004 sterilization requirement law when a transman brought the issues of the law’s human rights violation to the Supreme Court. There is a lot of work to be done, as many trans people feel at risk in the public sphere due to the lack of protection from discrimination. However, unlike in Norway, I am finding that there is a cultural memory of gender diversity rooted in traditions of cross-dressing theatre, sex work, and certain strands of Buddhism. This has fostered an alternative modus in personal expression to the more Eurocentric one, and I am investigating how these notions compete for precedence in contemporary Japanese culture – particularly within the trans rights movement.
Interviews with local activists and advocates
I have begun interviews with local trans individuals, as well as have spoken with both trans and non-trans activists, scholars and advocates, to gain insight into the culture of gender and queerness here. I met with leaders from ReBit, Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, and Pride House to learn more. I also have been active in ‘the field’ by attending different LGBT events, such as a Career Diversity symposium, Pride House Tokyo, and various trans-specific or gender-diverse themed venues and parties.
Ochanomizu University: increasing focus on LGBT issues
Ochanomizu University’s Institute for Gender Studies (IGS) is a wonderful place to be a visiting scholar. It is quickly growing and diversifying, with a growing focus on LGBT issues by both faculty and students. Ochanomizu is a women-only university and one of the most renowned in Tokyo. It is even more special because it is accepting trans-identifying women from the beginning of the 2020 Spring/Summer term (in April). No other women’s only university has made the decision to do this despite requests from transwomen and advocates. These students who will begin at Ocha are not necessarily, or even likely, legally female due to the age limit of 20 for beginning the two-year process to get sterilised – a requirement for legal gender change here. Therefore most or all of them will still be legally male. This makes it even more remarkable.
Bye for now!